Sunday, July 19, 2015

Has the NFU had the wool pulled over its eyes?

The title of this post is a strap line for an excellent letter in this week's Farmers Guardian, written by Worcestershire vet, David Denny B.VET.MED.M.R.C.V.S    (Sorry, no link)

Replying to Alistair Driver's piece on farmer frustration - [link] over a TB eradication policy which appears to have stalled, Mr Denny says: "
The NFU themselves must take much of the responsibility for “the anger of farmers over lack of progress with TB strategy” (Alistair Driver 03 July 2015). Instead of being myopic and having tunnel vision they should have looked at the whole scene. Typically they are concerned over the delay in the consultation and not the consultation itself. It being yet another layer of bureaucracy and inconvenience to farmers will have minimal impact on the overall bTB status of the Country. It is fiddling with trivia while the bTB crisis is allowed to escalate."
Our own opinion is that EU rules to be implemented this year equal much cost and bring no benefit. Post movement testing does not allow for isolation units of differing status on the same farm.
Explain that one to a buyer - and his neighbours within 3km.

Mr. Denny continues with a parallel of the rules of engagement for any war:
One of the principles of war in my day was “the selection and maintenance of aim”. Since only healthy badgers result in healthy cattle, the aim must be healthy badgers.
And criticising the politically corrupt RBCT - [link] he continues:
The NFU have been both na├»ve and gullible. They have been mushroomed and had the ‘wool pulled over their eyes’, by flawed and biased pseudo-science, by corruption, by brainwashed civil servants and deliberate political interference.

They have accepted all the evidence ‘carte blanche’ without reading the small print. It was always obvious that Natural England’s proposals for a badger cull were flawed and could only have been designed to deliberately fail or by those ignorant of badgers.

Frustrated and desperate farmers were morally and financially blackmailed into participating into virtually signing a blank cheque. It was a public relations disaster. Instead of having a targeted cull of the infected badgers, the NFU, like the British Veterinary Association (BVA), only having a second rate policy on offer, rubber stamped it. Now that the BVA have withdrawn their support a further roll out will be even more difficult to defend."
And Mr. Denny's opinions for the future of the livestock industry of this country?
"The 25 year eradication programme is ‘living in cloud cuckoo land’. As a result of negligence, corruption and political cowardice the level of bTB in the environment is now so great, that it will never ever be eradicated. It must however be controlled, by a targeted cull of the infected badgers."
And describing our own experience over the last decades, Mr Denny concludes:
The whole debacle has been fuelled and influenced by the animal rights lobby with their own cynical agenda. They are not concerned with the welfare of the terminally ill badger slowly dying from starvation and parasites with multiple abscesses in multiple organs. What is their agenda? Frustrated and desperate farmers require and deserve leadership and not a supine, submissive organisation. "
That is a pretty hard hitting letter, but events over the last decades reinforce Mr. Denny's views.

The 1972 Protection of Badgers Act took population control of this animal away from farmers and landowners and gave it to the Ministry. Anyone requiring a badger culled or moved for either disease or damage had first to jump through MAFF's hoops. The State Veterinary Service held a general license to comply with culling 'to prevent the spread of disease'. It issued these only after presenting a case to the Badger Panel, who met quarterly.
Speedy wasn't in the vocabulary and any licensed Badger Removal could be months, several 60 day tests and many more dead cattle after the original breakdown.
Did this serve the farmers or the badgers? Doubtful. Bureaucracy never does.
Who agreed it?.

In 1992 the Act was further tightened, and by now land available for Badger Removals had been ratcheted down from 7 km to just 1km and then only on land cattle had grazed. The badger population at this time was expanding - [link] at a rate of knots and was reported to have increased by 77 per cent.
Did this serve either farmers or badgers?
Who agreed it?

In 1997, in receipt of a £1m bung from the Political Animal Lobby, a moratorium was put on the section of the Act which dealt with licensed culls 'to prevent the spread of disease'. This is still in place.
Did that serve either farmers or badgers?
Who agreed it.

 In 2005 a consultation took place to introduce pre movement testing and Tabular valuation. The wording offered to Defra by the consultees was quite explicit - [link] They would reluctantly accept this, on the condition that a cull of infectious badgers was introduced at the same time.
It was not.

 In 2006 the licensing of badger removals and their house moves was passed to Natural England, under a 20 year lease. - [link] Did that move away from Animal Health to a quango intent on protection at any cost, serve badgers or this country's livestock farmers? Did anyone voice concerns on behalf of either group? Or ask for a rethink on the first available 5 year break in 2011? [ The next opportunity will be in 2016.]
They did not.

And during this last decade, after a raft of cattle measures designed to placate the ignorant and the badgerists, while doing absolutely nothing for the health and welfare of either cattle or badgers, this month Defra have surpassed themselves with the introduction of that Map - [link]

After a TB breakdown, a risk assessment form is filled out and shed load of paperwork arrives with instructions that Defra have 'purchased' the reactor animal (debatable - stolen would often be a better word, but let that pass) and that the breakdown information may be shared with your 'veterinary practitioner'. Nowhere does it say that my farm, and my location will be posted on the World Wide Web for all to see and possibly target.

Yes readers, dear old Camel Ebola, aka Gamal Eboe, described by the Daily Wail as a "convicted fraudster, the son of a wealthy Lebanese property developer who was born in the distinctly urban environs of Hammersmith in West London" and now calls himself 'Jay Tiernan' - [link] and who in later life has developed a love of all things badgery, may be poring over your farm details as we speak. And Defra have offered him a road map in high resolution of your farm.

Excellent. Thanks a bunch Defra ..... and your tame henchmen.

Leaving aside the inaccuracies and omissions in the map itself,  the 2014 Tuberculosis Order had to be changed to incorporate this little gem (Point 4): .
10 —(1) Where a skin test has been applied to a bovine animal, as soon as practicable after the results of the test have been read by an inspector or approved veterinary surgeon, the Secretary of State must give the keeper of that animal a written record of the results.

(2) Paragraph (1) does not apply to animals in respect of which movement is, or remains, prohibited under this Order following the test.

{3) The keeper of any animal to which paragraph (1) applies must— (a) retain the record of the results of the test for a period of three years and 60 days following the date bovine and avian tuberculin is injected; and (b) produce such record when requested to do so by an inspector.

(4) Where a bovine herd loses its tuberculosis-free status the Secretary of State may publish information regarding that herd in any form that the Secretary of State sees fit for the purpose of helping other persons to protect against the further spread of tuberculosis.
"Helping other persons to protect against the further spread of Tuberculosis" How so, when up to 80 per cent of TB breakdowns in endemic areas are caused by infectious wildlife?
When cattle in the increasing Red zone of a Defra map are nailed to floor with testing?
When Defra know that the problem is not in cattle?
And when this damn map doesn't even include 1500 farms shown on other Defra stats whose breakdowns precede the 5 year window?

Is this futile exercise to be like points on your driving license? A penalty for trying to farm cattle next to infectious wildlife which, having taken away farmer's rights to control, Defra now refuse to do?
Will records disappear after 5 years on the WWW?

Who exactly dared to breach my Data Protection and agree that little lot on my behalf?

Back to Mr. Denny's letter and the influence of our National Farming Union, credit for the map is described thus:
"Defra said the Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG), the NFU and others ‘all provided positive input into the development of ibTB".
No consultation then? Keep it in the family?

NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said the new website would ‘help farmers find out about any ongoing bTB breakdowns near their farms which will help them make informed business decisions’.

No it won't. It is inaccurate and doesn't include TB breakdowns in alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, bison or any other grazing animal. It ignores up to 1500 farms whose TB restrictions occurred prior to SAM data being lobbed to Oxford University to play with.
All that was necessary was the provision on a TB99 to inform immediate neighbours of a TB breakdown.

This high resolution map is dangerous and divisive and serves no useful purpose at all, except to advertise to the world what a weak and supine administration we have in this country when it comes to dealing with badgers infected with tuberculosis. Minette Batters added:
"However, there are genuine concerns over the fact that this information will be readily available to anyone, particularly given the problems farmers in Gloucestershire and Somerset have faced, and we will continue to work with Defra on this project.”
Concerns? Concerns?? Publishing this personal and in some cases 'delicate' data on the World Wide Web? Available for anyone - [link] to read, identify and worse?
Didn't anyone put their half brain into gear and realise how this thing could be used?

The best thing the NFU could do now would be to invoke Data Protection, consider the Human Rights of its livestock members caught between Brock and a hard place, and lobby Defra to take the damn thing down.

But on past experience, Defra has spoken and we are not holding our collective breath.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Reverse gear?

After the announcement that the second and subsequent years of  Northern Ireland's  Test Vaccinate Remove (TVR) project would begin the 'R' bit - the Removal of badgers found to have tuberculosis, and the NI Badger Groups reported approval of the project, we were on the point of constructing a 'Dear Dominic' letter to our lot.

This may have been somewhat premature.

The BBC - [link] are now being accused of bias and the 'C' word is firmly out of bounds to the NI badgerists, who appear to insist that all the bacteria associated with 'bovine' TB is, er 'bovine'. And thus only in cattle. The project is primarily a 'Vaccination' exercise, they say.

But a BBC report, 'biased' ??  Surely not.

So what is the spokesman for the NI badgerists reported to have said, which has led to this about turn and his head on the proverbial?

 In the BBC report, NI's chief vet, Robert Huey explained the TVR policy thus:
"It's consistent with what we're doing in cattle," he said. "What we do with cattle is that we test and, if animals test positive, we remove. It's the exactly the same thing we're doing for the badgers. What I like is the consistency of the approach."
And in the original BBC report, Peter Clarke of the NI Badger Group was said to have backed it [the TVR project] because it is based on science rather than the "Gatling gun" approach that was taken in England.

Also mentioned was the same point made by the Chief Vet, (above), that a parallel action on tested badgers, to that of test and slaughter of reactor cattle appeared the 'proportionate approach'. But having received complaints from the NI badgerists, the BBC censored their strapline for Mr. Clarke to:

He said the scheme is "proportionate, has buy-in from everyone and at the end of the day, what we all want is healthy cattle and healthy badgers".

So what was wrong with that? According to social media - [link] and repeated on the NI Badgerist's web site, quite a lot. Primarily because originally it mentioned the 'C' word rather than the 'V'. They say:
To clarify, in light of a number of critical comments issued in the past few days, firstly the BBC has changed the caption that accompanied Pete Clarke's photo to indicate its actual context, "the TVR project was proportionate and had buy in from everyone". However, the video footage is still very much out of context. Peter Clarke talked extensively about the TVR project in terms of it primarily being a vaccination study but this footage was not included. We are very open to a debate and discussion on the right way forward in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, in terms of protecting badgers and tackling the issue of bovineTB in general. In order to do so, we would invite individuals to consider the following detailed analysis and statements contained on our website, whilst guarding against poor journalistic tactics that are fuelled by hidden agendas and/or simply sensationalistic in motive: and
We'll leave you to trawl their website, adorned with pictures of shiny individuals, all apparently free of Tuberculosis and waiting to be indiscriminately vaccinated, regardless of their health status.

Their supporters would rather not see the results of this ultimate protection so we will balance that up a bit.

This individual was grossly underweight and had open throat abscesses.

This one was one of a large group, culled in Devon.

All were described as 'grossly emaciated' and their post mortems showed advanced tuberculosis and pleurisy.


The RSPCA - [link] describes tuberculosis in badgers, as a 'slight wheeziness'.

Rather more than that, we would suggest.

So do badgers suffer? Veterinary pathologists say "It would be extremely naive to assume that with this level of disease, they did not." Sadly they remain unseen by their protectors. Victims of a flawed policy..

One can only hope that the 'proportionate response' of a targeted cull, where as well as slaughtering reactor cattle, diseased wildlife is also euthanased, put to sleep or whatever description is used, does not founder because of the anthropomorphic antics of a few.

After reading this reported response from NI's badgerists,  we were hopeful of some common ground in the eradication of this disease.  England's Live Test trial in the early 1990s, was said to be well supported and had no interference, and Secret World's Pauline Kidner makes no secret [pun] of the euthanasia of rescue badgers testing positive to tuberculosis.

But it seems that where tuberculous badgers are concerned, their most vocal supporters are not only in denial, they are firmly in reverse gear on any point of agreement. 

Sunday, July 05, 2015

We've been here before.

This week, Farmers Guardian - [link] has an article on the frustration felt by many cattle farmers 'from the tip of Cornwall to Durham' over the grinding inertia they are experiencing; always promised 'jam tomorrow', if......

And thus far, those 'ifs' have been increasingly brutal cattle measures which have have little or no effect on the wildlife source of the majority of their zTB breakdowns.

The 'ifs' have been accepted with open arms by our industry representatives, who have shoveled the dirt in spades, on anyone disagreeing with this 'quid pro quo' approach - [link]
Meanwhile, as we have experienced over the last ten long years, Defra have a nasty habit of grabbing the 'quid' which is offered, while keeping the 'pro quo' firmly in their pockets.

 The fragrant Liz Truss,  Secretary of State now in charge of this unholy mess, has thus far unveiled no new cull areas, but has revealed an open access database for her department, chirping that this will 'transform farming' - [link] (Credit: This speech is linked to The Farmers Forum posting.)

One of the first pieces of data to be shared on line, is APHA's map of TB breakdowns - [link] in England.

Governmental reliance of computers is legendary, as is their steadfast belief in the data which is emitted from them. But apart from publicising to the world, the appalling level of TB breakdowns enjoyed by England, which one wouldn't have thought was a particularly good idea, are these pretty raindrops accurate?

A quick check of the total outbreaks which this site logs in 2015 (2,525 ongoing + 131 cleared)against other Defra TB databases - [link]  shows a substantial discrepancy. Official Defra figures indicate farms with a TB2 restriction order in place January - March 2015 in England, range from 3,451 to 4,037. Which is some degree of magnitude adrift from the new map data. This may be explained in part by farms with longstanding, ongoing, uncleared outbreaks not recorded at all. And that is more than opaque. It is the obfuscation we have come to expect from this department.

So as we head into the second half of 2015, with lorry loads of cattle still heading for Defra's mincer, will anything change? We've been here before, and apart from nailing first cattle farmers, then their vets -[link] to the floor on cost, nothing, absolutely nothing appears to be moving on dealing with zTuberculosis in wildlife.

This situation has led the NFU's Minette Batters to remark:
“The NFU and the farmers on the ground (in potential new cull areas) have gone above and beyond. Prices are crashing and people have put their hand up and paid big sums of money because they know if we don’t take out this disease in badgers we are not going to get rid of it on farms,” she told Farmers Guardian.

But as England's cattle play football with a lethal type of ball, (left)and pay the ultimate price at their next TB test, Northern Ireland roll out their 5 year TVR - Test, Vaccinate, Remove (TVR) plan.

In areas of endemic TB, this may  include the 'R' bit - eventually. Currently in the name of 'research', all badgers are tested, vaccinated and released.

This BBC Report - [link] report quotes the government Chief vet, farmers and the N.I badgerists broadly in favour of a targeted approach. And much more detail on the project is in the Northern Ireland Assembly's presentation - [link]
This confirms that in year one (2014) all badgers trapped were tested, vaccinated and released.
This year (2015) after parallel tests on blood assays to validate set side tests (PCR?, any badger found to be infected will be removed by lethal injection.
Some 40 badgers are fitted with collars to check movement and ascertain any perturbation issues.

The cost is £7.5m over 5 years on a 100 sq km area and funded by Government.

Meanwhile, in England, a 25 year badger control, funded by farmers appears stalled and our representatives argue about 'further cattle measures'.

Shaft me once, shame on you. Shaft me twice, shame on me.  We've been here before. Twice.